Snickerdoodles

I was at a gathering of some friends today and the talk turned to cookies. I mentioned that I had just made the dough for snickerdoodles that I was baking tonight. The cookies are for a celebration at church, which is about the only way I will be baking any cookies these days.

A friend asked me if my snickerdoodles were fat or thin. “Fat,” I replied as all good snickerdoodles should be. She said hers turned out too thin and asked me the secret. I asked if her recipe had cream of tartar and baking soda. Her’s did not. I’m not sure it is a secret, but I promised I would give her my recipe. Then another friend asked if I would send it to everyone, so here it is.

Snickerdoodles

Four dozen small cookies or two dozen big ones

2 sticks room temp unsalted butter

1 c. White sugar

1/2 c. Brown sugar

3 c. All purpose flour

2 t. Cream of tartar

1 t. Baking soda

1 1/2 t. Cinnamon

1/2 t. Salt

1 large egg

1 egg yolk

2. t. Vanilla extract

For Cookie Rolling

1/4 c. Sugar

1 T. Cinnamon

In a stand mixer with he paddle attachment beat the butter and add the white and brown sugars. Mix on medium for two minutes. Add the egg and egg yolk and vanilla and beat until well mixed, scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Mix until just mixed. Remove the bowl and take the paddle out. Pack down the dough in the bowl and press plastic wrap down to cover the dough tightly.

Chill for at least four hours.

Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Using a teaspoon scoop small ball about an inch big out and roll it in your hands, then roll it in the cinnamon sugar. Place on baking sheet covered with parchment paper or a silpat .

Bake for ten minutes and them let rest on baking rack for ten minutes.

The cookies will be soft. Store in airtight container.

You can make the dough balls and freeze for baking later.


Nothing Is As Good As Russ

Russ is off taking care of his Dad so Shay and I are home. I had a long list of things I wanted to get done this weekend. It was an ambitious list, but I knew I had carry over time this week to complete it.

Without Russ I have decided that Shay and I are very lazy. I know I am lucky that Russ is a modern spouse who does more than his fair share of house stuff, but without him I realize how much time it takes to do everything myself.

I did concentrate my time trying to finish my needlepoint purse I have been working on the for two months. Since I would like to have it for summer if I don’t finish it now there is no chance it will see a warm day.

Needing to needlepoint all weekend is how I justify binge watching all of season five of Yellowstone. I also went to church which is a good needlepoint opportunity. When our Pastor Alex said in his sermon that we did not have to be in church and we were free to get up and leave I considered it just for fun. He told me after church when he wrote that he thought I might be the one person to take him up on the offer. Am I predictable or just rebellious?

I didn’t leave church and I’m glad I didn’t. I wouldn’t have gotten more things done on my list if I did.

Shay misses Russ most of all. She keeps looking down to the garage to see if he is going to walk in the door. Poor girl. I am not breaking it to her how long he might be gone. I am no Russ substitute, for anything!


U Dirty Dog

After the at home haircut event yesterday I took Shay to U Dirty Dog to give her a bath and have them trim her feet. There is no dog on earth who hates water more than Shay. Giving her a bath is pure torture.

Russ found this place for me before he took off for a week of elder care. It seemed like a better idea than bending over the bathtub at home.

Shay was wary when we got out of the car at Homestead market. She had never been to this or any other shopping plazas before. As soon as we went in the door she could smell that many dogs had visited this spot before and she gave me the pitiful look of “you are not leaving me here, are you.”

I hope that the staff is used to owners talking to their dogs, because I reassured her we were in this together. Once I had paid we were shown to a washing room. It was much easier to give Shay a bath with a nice soft sprayer and a good standing height tank. They had four different kinds of shampoo to choose from, conditioner and ear cleaning supplies.

I gave Shay the full spa treatment. She was not too unhappy until I turned on the dryer. It was loud and I can see why it scared her. I kept the blower away from her face because I have been told by all her groomers that she does not like to get her face blown out. I concentrated on her feet because I was told they must be dry for her to get her feet trimmed.

I felt like that was not too torturous for her after my terrible haircut. I just wanted to make sure she did not have fur growing between her pads which make going down our wood stairs slippery.

After all of this work on my part the groomer who I had been using texted me that she had made a mistake and could come she Shay next week. Too late. Shay and I have moved on.


Competence, Reliability, Talent, Kindness

These are the qualities I am looking for in a dog groomer. Apparently they are too much to ask for because I have had a terrible time finding and keeping a groomer. The last one I had was a mobile groomer. She was outrageously expensive, but I was willing to pay if she had the right qualities.

The first time she came, she showed up on time and gave Shay an OK haircut. The second time she did not come the day that we had scheduled, but gave me notice and came within two weeks. Shay shivered at the sight of her. She gave a fair to poor hair cut.

I was willing to try her one more time. She scheduled me at the time of the last haircut. I contacted her this week to confirm. She told me she was coming two months from now. WTF.

I showed her the text confirming, but that made little difference. So now she is out. I am sure Shay is glad about that.

I called my vet and got Shay a grooming apt in two months. So I went ahead and did 4/5’s of a very bad haircut on Shay myself. She finally sat down in protest after an hour, so I will finish her legs tomorrow.

I may not be competent when it comes to grooming, but at least Shay does not shake in fear while I am clipping her. I don’t know why it is so hard to find reliable dog groomers, but my quest continues.


The Tale of Two Hip Replacements

I know two people who had hip replacements the same day. One was planned, one was not. One had a compliant patient who followed all the rules and is healing properly. One is not following the rules to heal and thus is not doing as well. One will still be on good terms with their care giver after this is over, one may not be.

The lessons from this are many. If something is wrong get it looked at right away so that you don’t do more harm to yourself than necessary. Once you have a replacement do exactly what the doctors, nurses, physical therapists and occupational therapists say. They know better than you do.

The biggest lesson is be nice to your care givers because you need them. Everyone knows you hurt and are uncomfortable, but don’t take it out on them. Take your pain medication if you hurt. Don’t inflict hurt on your loved ones.


Jane at 85

How can it be? My mom turned 85 today! She is a wonder! I am very proud of her making her transition to her new home in Durham, although it is some here and some home. At least she is making new friends and making her cute apartment a cozy nest.

She is strong and happy and I hope she has a fabulous year. She does not look a day over 65! I only hope some of what she has rubs off on me.

Happy Birthday Mom!


The Best Part of Teaching

Lucky is not the right word, maybe spoiled is closer to the truth. That’s the way I feel when I come to a town in Eastern NC for three days and teach Mah Jongg.

This week is my second trip to Greenville. The number of friends I have made has expanded greatly. Thanks to my host Nikki who organizes everything and who I am staying with on this trip. One of the students Tanya, has made fabulous homemade treats for the whole class each day. She is a world class baker. The quiche this morning was very popular as well as the dark chocolate short bread, I wish I could have tasted them, but the oohing and aahing from the students told the story. This is way beyond the normal kind of snacks that most people have at Mah Jongg class.

Tonight Nikki’s sister-in-law Kara, who I met first at the beach and adored immediately, had a party tonight for me with about a dozen other women. I knew everyone from class, but a few non-Mah Jongg players came who were just fun people to meet. Kara invited me to come early to hang out with her while she made duck poppers, and spicy shrimp and a giant charcuterie platter for the party. That was really over the top.

It is so hard for me to imagine any job I could possibly do where the people are so generous, kind and just so much fun to be with. I have to say that the hospitality in Eastern North Carolina is hard to beat. They really spoil me when I visit.


Eastern NC at It’s Best

It’s Mah Jongg week in Greenville. My friend Nikki who organized Greenville’s first Mah Jongg week just a few months ago did it again for this week. Not only did she fill two classes at the Greenville Country club, she invited me to stay at her house, which is so much nicer than staying at the nicest Hilton in town and that is saying something.

Classes went great today, especially since they started with a class of returning students who I already know and adore. The class of new players are going to do well, but not until tomorrow. There is so much to learn you just can’t take it all in the first day.

After classes finished I came to Nikki’s beautiful house where I met her charming husband Gray. After some visiting we got in the car and picked up Nikki’s sister-in-law Kara, who is one of my favorites and Gray drove us to Williamston, NC to the Sunny Side Oyster bar. This is as Eastern a North Carolina place as you can go.

We walked into the big bar area where you wait for a place at the 32 seat oyster bar. The bar area was three or four times the size of the eating area. We were lucky that it is a Monday in January so we only had to wait about 45 minutes. While we did we played the ring game where you are trying to get the ring hanging from the string attached to the ceiling to get caught on the hook on the wall. There was beer and wine, but don’t ask for Prosecco. The bartender told Nikki, “We have saw dust on the floor,” not a Prosecco type of place.

When four seats came available we were seated at the end of the bar. There are no menus, but the placemats had photos of all the shuckers. We did get out picture made with “geezer” who has worked there 52 years.

Justin took our order and was one of our shuckers. Before we even ordered they poured hot sauce made of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and horseradish into cups in front of each of us. They didn’t ask if you wanted it, you just got it because everything they had to eat went with “sauce.”

There were two sleeves of Saltines on the counter that were part of your meal. Justin asked what we wanted. Gray knew, so he ordered. As the only newbie in the foursome I asked what they had. “Oysters, shrimp, scallops and crab legs.”

Kara and I split an half a peck or oysters and a half a pound of shrimp. Those were the smallest portions you could get.

Justin and another shucker brought our buckets of steamed oysters in mere minutes and dumped them into the troughs in front of them. They shucked the oysters and dropped them into tiny bowls right in front of us. Our only utensil was a tiny cocktail fork and we stabbed each oyster and sauced it up before enjoying it.

It was a happy comunial experience between you and your shucker. Just one highlight of coming to Greenville and Nikki and Gray’s hospitality.


Laying Low

Last week was a busy one. I taught eight Mah Jongg classes, ending Thursday teaching three. So I took the weekend off from everything except church. January is a great month to do nothing on the weekends. It’s not like you are missing a party.

With so many people tied up with watching football playoffs and college basketball it was a great time to catch up on needlepoint. I have been working on this needle point version of a Nantucket basket purse. It will be a very cute bag with bamboo handles, but stitching it is very boring as I look only at Carmel and brown threads.

I want to finish stitching it in the hopes that it might be made into a purse before I go to Maine in August. It sounds crazy, but getting things finished is the longest part of any project.

Along with the stitching I have been binging shows on Acorn TV. Acorn has a lot of British shows that tend to be short series. Yesterday I watched an Scottish five parter called the Nest. Perfect thing to watch while needlepointing because I had to listen well to understand the accents. After a show and a half I was back in my old Glasgow call center I used to consult at. The director of the site, Anne McKinnon had such a strong accent that I did not really know what she was saying half the time.

It’s back to the salt mines this week, but only seven classes, instead of eight. I am looking forward to spending three days with a lovely group I have grown to enjoy. More news on their fabulous hospitality this week.

Hope everyone had a restful weekend. Spring and summer and the go, go, go season will be upon us soon.


The Year of the Rabbit

Tomorrow is the lunar new year. It is a big day in Asia. Celebrations with dumplings, fruit, sweets and money in red envelopes.

Yesterday Good Morning America had a segment about the year of the rabbit. And in it they showed the game of Mah Jongg as something fun to do to celebrate the lunar new year.

I laughed out loud at the thought of a non-Mah Jongg player thinking that they could get a game and learn it in time for the holiday tomorrow. I did like that they showed the game and the big Chinese tiles that don’t go on racks because they are so fat they can stand up on their own.

I really liked the look on Micheal Strahan’s face when he saw the tiles. No interest in them whatsoever. I think he was happy with the dumplings. They didn’t set the board up correctly because it looks like the table they had it on was too small, but 99% of people watching didn’t know that.

If you know how to play Mah Jongg, do it tomorrow in celebration of the year of the rabbit. It sounds like such a better year than the year of the rat or the snake. Next year is the year of the dragon and given that dragons are a part of Mah Jongg you should definitely learn to play before then.


One Night at Walkers ‘78/‘79

A few days ago my friend Arabella, who was my classmate in high school, contacted me because she found some photos she took at school. She thought I might want them. The eight small black and white snapshots arrived today in the mail along with a sweet note from Arabella.

Noting that they were not particularly good photos she did recognize that they were taken in my senior dorm room and that I was in my nightgown.

She was right. It was my room. I was in my standard Lanz nightgown which I still wear. I was needlepointing, which I still do. There were many friends gathered in my room all facing the same way. I think we must have been watching my tiny, illegal black and white Sony TV, which I don’t remember smuggling to school, but probably did. It looks like popcorn was served. I think the posters on the wall were the Characters from Wind in the Willows, but I must have left them there, because I don’t remember them well.

There was an Avon bear, which various friends seemed to hold. I think that most of these friends lived on my hall, Cynthia Reed, Lisa Dority, Mary Derbyshire, Stori Stockwell and Lisa Danforth. Sadly there were no photos of Arabella.

I wish Stori were still alive because she might have remembered what we were watching or why this particular group was gathered in my room. I wonder where Nancy Mack was, as she was my suite mate and the door between our two tiny rooms was almost always open.

If any of you friends in these photos have any memories of this event send a word. I have no recollection of that night, which I can tell it was by the black outside the window of my Cluett room.

I texted Carter a couple of these photos because in the small world that it is, Carter works with Cynthia Reed Klein’s daughter in Boston. Carter’s response to the photo is that I look exactly the same. What a nice daughter.


My First Concert

I came home tonight from teaching three Mah Jongg classes in Raleigh today. Nine hours of teaching is not something I can do everyday. I fell into bed just now and opened my email which had gone unchecked all day and discovered that David Crosby had died.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young had been the first concert I had gone to and the memory of that came flooding back.

In the summer of 1978 I had a summer job working in a printing factory in Stamford, Connecticut. It was a family owned business and most of the employees were all Italians who were related to each other, but not the family who owned the business. For most English was not their best language so it was lonely for me out on the shop floor running a folding machine.

The one person I could talk with was the owner’s daughter who worked in the front office along with her brother. She was my age and he was a year older. As the owner’s kids they got the cushy office jobs, but they still ate lunch out back with all the factory workers.

I can’t remember my friend’s name, but I do remember well that one summer night we went to New Haven with her brother and one of his friends to see Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The only part of the concert I can recall all these years later is singing “Our House” at the top of our lungs.

I also remember going back to their house in Westport to spend the night and my having to get up early the next morning to get to my 7:00am shift and my friend and her brother not being at lunch because their Dad told them they did not have to come in after the concert. I scoffed at this because they did not come into work until 9 anyway, but they were the owner’s kids.

Rest in Peace David Crosby. You were always a favorite of mine.


Everyone Needs to Lose

When I was five or six I remember visiting my sweet Grandmother Mima. She was a world class game player. We would play grown up card games and she would beat me. If I started to sniffle she would swiftly raise her pointer finger in the air and sternly say, “no crying!”

I would pull it together and play another round with her, mostly getting beaten, but never quitting. It was the best life lesson. No participation trophy for me.

I was telling my Mah Jongg students today that they are going to lose 78% of the time. With four people playing you are only entitled to win 25% of the time, but in Mah Jongg sometimes no one wins so that ups your loss rate. There is also no second place in Mah Jongg so you either win or you lose, deal with it. And players do, most graciously congratulate the winner and move on to play another game and try and win that one.

There is a guy in New Mexico all over the news this week who was arrested for shooting up the homes of political opponents he lost to. It was reported that he lost badly, but he was a sore loser and turned to violence. This guy needed more practice losing in his life. One needs to learn that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and you learn so much more from your losses than you do from your wins.

Children should have to play board games in school so they can build up a thick skin when they lose. Doing it on videos does not have the same effect. You need to look your opponent in the eye and shake their hand, regardless of the outcome. The world would be a much more civil place if we all played games together.


Tell Me Your Name

I give all my Mah Jongg students my cell number so they can text me questions. I also give people doing work at my house my cell phone so they can call me. For most of those two groups I don’t always have their cell phone in my contacts list so when they text me just a phone number comes up rather than a name.

Mah Jongg students often ask a question and make some niceties. I answer their question and give a general nicety back. I would love to actually know who is texting because I might have something specific to say, if only I knew who they were. I hate to text, “Who is this?” It has no tone and could sound rude. I don’t really have the time to type out, “I’m sorry, just a phone number came up. Could you please tell me your name and how I know you?”

Most of the time people have no idea I don’t know who they are. I give them an answer and they are happy. It just starts to get embarrassing when they carry on multiple text conversations with me and I still have no idea who they are. By then it is much too late to ask, “Hey, who are you?”

I can’t be alone in having this happen. I have taken to always introducing myself via text if I am texting anyone I don’t know well. I would like to spread the habit to others.

It is kind of like the habit of telling people in a group your name just in case they don’t know it. Of course you don’t introduce yourself to people you know well, but whenever you are with people who aren’t close friends or colleagues.

It amazes me how many people don’t know that if I tell you my name it might be because I don’t know yours. I am prompting you to tell me your name. The worst is when I say to someone. “Hi, I’m Dana. Nice to see you.” Nice to see does not mean I know you or I don’t know you. But if the person says, “Hi Dana. Nice to see you too.” I then am forced to follow up with, “Can you remind me of your name?”

I wish I could remember everyone’s name I ever met, but as I age it is just not possible. I am married to someone who does not remember anyone’s name so I have to remember for him too.

Let’s try and spread the word that we introduce ourselves if there is the slightest possibility that just one person does not know your name. And when you text you start with your name.


Take Your Mother to Work Day

It’s a big week of Mah Jongg classes. I apologize now if I have nothing else to write about since I am teaching eight classes in four days.

Today was a one day Advanced Beginner class in a Durham. That makes this the lightest day in terms of travel and number of classes. My mother has started plying Mah Jongg at Croasdaile without having taken a full formal beginner class from me.

This summer she started learning at our family reunion. So many people assume they can just pick the game up on their own and it is only after playing a while that they are humbled and realize they could do with some classes.

I learned Mah Jongg by sitting beside someone who knew slightly more than me. It was the worst possible way to learn. There are too many exceptions.

After playing with some real Mah Jongg players my mother asked me if she could come to some of my lessons. I tried to get her to come last week, but she was busy, so she came to just one of the advanced beginner classes. She did well, but I know she, like everyone could benefit from a few classes.

Once you learn the rules of the game you really need to do exercises to train your brain how to pick which hand to play. Training people how to think is by far the most fun thing to teach. It was fun to see how well my mother did. Even at almost 85 she is naturally a great game player.


Silver and Gold Friends

When I was a Girl Scout, or maybe a Brownie I learned the song, “Make New friends.” It wasn’t much of a song, so we sang it in the round, repeating the same line three times.

“Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” It didn’t explicitly say that the new friends are only silver and the old ones become gold, but that was the way I took it at the time.

If I try and think what I learned in scouts this would be the one standout, that and how to cook bacon for a crowd over a campfire. I was probably seven or eight when I learned the song and it has been a guide star for me my whole life. Once in a while I will be driving alone in the car and I will be humming it without realizing it.

The thing I love about it is it encourages you to always be making new friends while not ignoring your old friends. It also lets you know that some friends are more important to you than other and that is OK too.

Just because someone is a new friend of mine does not prohibit them from becoming a gold friend fast. Conversely, just because I have known you forever you may still be a silver friend. And the song gave me permission for it to be fine like that.

Experts on longevity often site the existence of friends as being key to living a long and happy life. So be like a Girl Scout and always be making new friends. You have no idea who is going to be gold to you. Not everyone will be gold and silver friends have their place too. The good news is are all friends, something you just can’t have too many of.


My Toaster Oven History

I have never owned a toaster. Did not get one as a wedding present. Never wanted a toaster. I am a toaster oven girl. I got my first one when I was a senior in boarding school. It was a General Electric.

We were not allowed to have appliances other than coils to put into a mug to heat up water. Those coils could easily start a fire if you laid it on our very flammable carpet, so I figured with caution I could not start a fire with a toaster oven.

The item I made most often in that toaster oven was Boursin stuffed mushrooms. No need to make toast, we could get that in the dining room, but stuffed mushrooms were a crave-worthy luxury.

That original toaster oven had a door that went up. It was small. I think you could toast two pieces of bread at the same time, so it was no better than a two slot toaster if that is all you used it for. The key was it was also an oven. It was more or less an adult version of an easy bake oven.

That toaster oven went far with me. To college, where I also made stuffed mushrooms, to my first apartment in DC. Somewhere between that DuPont Circle apartment and my house on Irving St. I got a new GE model. Slightly bigger with a door that opened down which made it easier to see what you were putting in or taking out.

After Russ and I got married I got a Black and Decker Model. I am not sure if we were living in NJ or had made the move to NC, but this model lasted a long time. At some point I think Russ was at a loss for something to give me and upgraded that perfectly good Black and Decker to a Cuisinart.

We had this one probably more than ten years now. The electronic push buttons were starting to fail and as is the case with all my toaster ovens I was unable to clean it to its original gleam.

I considered asking for a new one for Christmas, but decided that would have given Russ an easy way out. So this week when I was at Costco buying Shay’s chicken I sashayed by the small appliance aisle and this toaster oven/air fryer fell in my cart.

We have a basket type air fryer which is not convenient and it does not live in my kitchen so getting it out is an ordeal. But I do like air fying some things. Tonight I made sweet potato fries and chicken thighs á la chicken tenders. I was going to air fry the green beans, but I just threw them in a fry pan and dry roasted them. Dinner was fast with the new toaster oven.

As far as I am concerned the toaster oven is a must have kitchen requirement.


My Toaster Oven History

I have never owned a toaster. Did not get one as a wedding present. Never wanted a toaster. I am a toaster oven girl. I got my first one when I was a senior in boarding school. It was a General Electric.

We were not allowed to have appliances other than coils to put into a mug to heat up water. Those coils could easily start a fire if you laid it on our very flammable carpet, so I figured with caution I could not start a fire with a toaster oven.

The item I made most often in that toaster oven was Boursin stuffed mushrooms. No need to make toast, we could get that in the dining room, but stuffed mushrooms were a crave-worthy luxury.

That original toaster oven had a door that went up. It was small. I think you could toast two pieces of bread at the same time, so it was no better than a two slot toaster if that is all you used it for. The key was it was also an oven. It was more or less an adult version of an easy bake oven.

That toaster oven went far with me. To college, where I also made stuffed mushrooms, to my first apartment in DC. Somewhere between that DuPont Circle apartment and my house on Irving St. I got a new GE model. Slightly bigger with a door that opened down which made it easier to see what you were putting in or taking out.

After Russ and I got married I got a Black and Decker Model. I am not sure if we were living in NJ or had made the move to NC, but this model lasted a long time. At some point I think Russ was at a loss for something to give me and upgraded that perfectly good Black and Decker to a Cuisinart.

We had this one probably more than ten years now. The electronic push buttons were starting to fail and as is the case with all my toaster ovens I was unable to clean it to its original gleam.

I considered asking for a new one for Christmas, but decided that would have given Russ an easy way out. So this week when I was at Costco buying Shay’s chicken I sashayed by the small appliance aisle and this toaster oven/air fryer fell in my cart.

We have a basket type air fryer which is not convenient and it does not live in my kitchen so getting it out is an ordeal. But I do like air fying some things. Tonight I made sweet potato fries and chicken thighs á la chicken tenders. I was going to air fry the green beans, but I just threw them in a fry pan and dry roasted them. Dinner was fast with the new toaster oven.

As far as I am concerned the toaster oven is a must have kitchen requirement.


We Need A Math Wordle

Back when I first got out of college I noticed that I was starting to lose my ability to do basic math in my head. It’s not that I didn’t know how, but I just wasn’t doing it everyday so I was slowing down on calculations. To combat the loss I started balancing my checkbook in my head. (Remember when we used to write down what checks we wrote and subtract those amounts from our balance.) I also did as many math problems as I came across each day without a calculator, like figuring out what my commission on a sale might be.

Doing all this math regularly helped. I still try and do these things and consequently I got to be very fast at brain math. I am not doing calculus, but what used to be called long division is a big brain booster.

I do Wordle everyday, sharing the results with my book group. They are a heavy literary crowd and I am there for comic relief. I find that Wordle is helpful in brain training, but being able to figure out a missing letter is not really a transferable skill.

I wish someone would come up with a daily math puzzle. Nothing too hard, but something useful as a tool to keep up our basic math skills and keep our brain’s agile.

I no longer have a checkbook and I certainly don’t balance anything. I guess most of us are taking the bank’s word. The best math I do in my head now is calculating what I think my retirement account has in it after looking at how the market did each day. That is not a math problem, but a wishing game.

I guess the old adage, “use it or lose it,” applies here. If only it was as easy to lose weight as it is to lose the ability to multiply 13 times 24 in your head.


Half Price AllBirds

Last week when I was in Rocky Mount one of my students noticed I wore AllBirds to class each day. I am of the age that I only wear comfortable shoes. I really don’t care how fashionable they are as long as I can stand and walk all day.

This new friend told me about a company that was in Rocky Mount that sold new AllBirds online through their eBay store. They are called Shoes and Fashions. She had bought three pairs of AllBirds half price and said they were new in the boxes.

I went online. Sure enough they had hundreds of thousands of shoes half price. I don’t know if they are buying the returned ones, but I went ahead and ordered three pairs. I had to search for my size. Each shoe is individually offered so it’s not like looking at a website where you find a shoe you like then pick your size.

I was able to find many, I think a dozen shoes I wanted. I put them all in my cart then picked my top three favorites and ordered those. They came fast as could be, saying they actually were coming from Durham. Each pair was in the standard AllBird box and they all were brand new with the cardboard foot inserts in them. I have worn two pairs so far and they are just like the AllBirds I paid full price for at the store.

I did read that AllBirds are falling out of favor with finance Bro’s. All the better for me. I am just happy to have comfortable shoes at a good price.


Highlight of My Working Life

Tonight while I was finishing up teaching a lovely group of young women in Raliegh how to play Mah Jongg we got to talking about all the careers I have had. They asked me if I like teaching Mah Jongg best. “It is right close to the top,” I told them. I followed up with the story about the true highlight of my career that I am certain will never be surpassed.

In 1995/96 I got to run a program for BT, advertising Friends and Family in the UK. We created an ad campaign called the Friends and Family reunions. Once a month for a year we randomly picked one person who won an all expenses paid trip to a fabulous location and they got to take 29 of their friends and family with them.

This story I told the women who were sitting at the table tonight was of the family who won the trip to South Africa. They were a lovely couple from Canterbury who had four children, 14, twins 8 and a new baby. This was the biggest thing to ever happen for this family. The father was a car mechanic and they lived in a tiny house, which I visited the day after calling them to tell them they had won. They had never been on a vacation in their whole marriage so this was a big deal.

When the mother was packing for the trip she called me at my London office to ask me if they needed to bring towels. I was taking them to the Palace Hotel in Sun City and I promised her we would have plenty of towels.

I had one suite for the parents and the baby with an adjoining suite for the twins and the older sister. In the kids suite I had the mini-bar stocked only with kid friendly items.

After the long overnight flight from London I went to their suites to see how they were. One of the twins Nigel opened the door to his room. I asked him what he thought? He looked a little worried and said to me, “Dana, someone left their soda in our room.”

Having never been to a hotel or anywhere, I knew he had no idea what a minibar was. I told him, “Nigel, that soda and all the snacks and juice are for you and your sisters. You can have whatever your mother says you can have. Don’t worry about saving it because they will restock it everyday. It’s free for you.”

Without missing a beat Nigel then said to me, “Dana, would you like a soda?”

It was all I could do not to burst into tears right then. This sweet boy, who lived an incredibly modest life thought of me before himself. I thanked him so much and declined his offer, but told him I was looking forward to spending the week with him showing him all the exciting things we has going to see in South Africa.

That one encounter that happened so many years go still stands as the very best moment of my working life.

As I told this story tonight the three women I was telling it to all teared up. They asked me if I knew where Nigel was and I said, no. We all agreed he probably is still an incredible person.


Garden Club Bright Spot

What a difference a day makes. The relative with the emergency hip replacement had the surgery this morning and is resting in the hospital. I also have. Friend who had a hip replacement today and her surgery was successful according to her husband. Yeah for two new hips.

This morning I got my old car in Raleigh towed to the dealership in Durham to get fixed. I picked up my regular car and have it safely at home. No other cars broke today.

The highlight of the day was a fabulous Garden Club meeting at Anna Whalen’s house. Morgan Moylan of West Queen Studio gave the best presentation on tips and tricks and what is hot is the floral world.

My favorite trick she showed us was the spinning of roses to get them to open up. Morgan’s energy and excitement around flowers is infectious. It was a most entertaining presentation. Now I wish I had an event coming up so I had an excuse to purchase a lot of flowers and play with them.

Thanks to Anna for getting Morgan to us. It had been too long since I had seen Morgan and it was fun to catch up.

I am thankful for Garden club to make me slow down and visit with friends and think about beautiful things, not broken bones or broken cars.


How Many Things Can Go Wrong?

Some days are just worst than others. The day started out fine. I taught Mah Jongg in Durham. During the class I got a message that a very close relative had a bad injury which put him in the hospital and is going to have a big surgery tomorrow. So prayers are needed for that.

After the first class I drive to Raleigh in our old Land Cruiser because my car was in the shop. I was teaching mah Jongg to a very cute group of young women.

Class ended at nine and they helped pack up my car and the car wouldn’t start. The five women who were still left jumped into action and tried to jump my car, to no avail.

I called AAA and after waiting an hour they finally came and a new battery didn’t work so we determined it was the starter. A tow truck was needed, but couldn’t arrive until 1:00 pm.

I said forget that, I would get a tow truck tomorrow. So my Mah Jongg girls unloaded my car. I called an Uber and while Ahmed is driving me home on I 40 I am writing the blog on my phone.

I hope tomorrow is a better day.


Is It Really Just the Second Week of 2023?

I feel like I have lived more than one week in 2023 already. So far in the first week I went to church twice and one memorial service. I drove 720 miles. I taught seven different Mah Jongg Classes over four different days. I made 100 copies of materials for classes. I packed and mailed five different packages. I scheduled fifteen Mah Jongg classes as far out as the end of September.

I had lunch with a friend I have been friends with for 38 years, reconnected with two people I had not seen in 30 years, and went to lunch with another 25 year long friend. I made 25 new friends and met 16 more people who I hope will become friends.

I started one puzzle. Needlepointed at least 20 square inches. I washed many dishes by hand as the dishwasher is still broken. I dropped one car off to be serviced and when I was not doing anything else I watched the most entertaining week of C-span, staying up until after midnight Friday night witnessing the mafia like negotiations in congress.

What I didn’t do in the first week of the year: any laundry, grocery shopping or cooking.

I figure I better do some of the regular life stuff every week or we are going to run out of food to cook, things to eat and clothes to wear. Maybe tomorrow I can fit in some grocery shopping before my two Mah Jongg classes. I would much rather be making new friends and seeing old ones.


Farewell to Tom Belcher

Today was a a sad one. One of my old friends from my Washington days, Tom Belcher passed away right after Thanksgiving. He was just a few months older than me. He was at my wedding. Today was his memorial service in his hometown of Oxford, NC.

My oldest DC friend, David MacKay called me when he learned of Tom’s sudden passing after trouble with a hip replacement. Tom lived in Miami and we hadn’t see each other much in person, but we had kept in touch. David and I made plans to meet for Tom’s service.

I came up to Oxford early and David and I met for lunch at the Strong Arm Cafe and Bakery. It is a fairly new place that is having great success in Oxford. David and I rehashed all our old Tom stories. After a while two more old DC friends, and best friends to Tom, Kevin and Donald came in and joined us. I had not seen them in years.

When I think about Tom I always think about Kevin being with him as they were inseparable friends. Both of them were very broken up about Tom’s passing. We walked down the street to the Oxford Baptist Church and joined the family and gathered friends for the service. It was comforting to hear from people who loved Tom.

Parents should not have to bury their child. This is the second friend in the space of two months that I have lost. This is streak I would like to break.

The only silver lining is I had to chance to see people I have not seen in decades as well as spend some quality time with David, who I do see more regularly, but never enough.

Hold your friends close. There is not enough time left to make a life long friend. As wonderful as new friends are, they do not know your history, your inside jokes and all your secrets.

I pray for Tom’s family and friends who are missing him now. He was a loving son, brother, partner and friend.


I Need A Good Handy Man

Russ and I found some rot in some wood work in the sunroom. Nothing terrible, but something that needs to be fixed soon. When we built the addition on our house we had the best builder, Joe. He told us that once he worked for us he would always come work for us. We thought we were set for life. Then Joe retired. He wasn’t much older than me.

Now I need a handy man with good carpentry skills. If you know someone you have had work on your house I would love their name and number. I need a new Joe in our lives who I can call with the list of things that need to be fixed.

Russ is excellent at fixing many things, but he does not have the time. If only my father-in-law traveled. This wood working issue could be fixed in an instant.

We are still waiting for the dishwasher repair man from the day before Christmas. We know what the problem is, but we can’t fix it. It’s incredibly frustrating to wait around for someone to come, but it is worse not to know who to call in the first place.


A New Sweet Town of Mah Jongg Players

Years ago one of my Beach Mah Jongg students came up to me after class and said, “Would you ever consider coming to Rocky Mount to teach Mah Jongg?” She was not the first person from a small town to ask me like that.

I love going to small towns to teach. There are nice people all over North Carolina, but the ones in small towns are so grateful when you come to them. I understand this. Big cities have more available. I could spend everyday and night teaching in Raleigh because there are just more people there. They are wonderful people and I adore them. But people in small towns are just so appreciative.

This week I was at Benvenue Country club. It is a Donald Ross course built in 1922 so it feels very much like Hope Valley. The manager could not have been nicer and all the members who came to class were as fun and friendly as they could be. They have already booked their next round of lessons.

As I was packing up today, my friend Catherine, who is the one who asked me to come teach there and organized the whole week, put a gift in my car. When I got home I opened this beautiful candle and a sweet note. It was over the top for her to give me a gift, she got me the gig!

Thanks to Catherine and her friend Ginger who hosted me all three days, taking care of me and helping out. I am happy to come to Rocky Mount anytime. I am adding it to the list a small North Carolina towns that I think are full of the nicest people.


House Mess or is it a Plan?

For years many congressional Republicans have been obstructionists when it comes to actual legislation. They didn’t see their jobs as trying to make legislation that makes all of America better. Instead they just wanted to stop Democrats from doing that.

At last the house Republicans have finally figured out how to actually never have to do anything, but sit on their butts and argue by never electing a speaker. They literally can’t do anything until they elect a speaker and as long as they never do that they can spend the next two years doing nothing!

Of course this distraction is unacceptable to normal citizens. We would never be able to go to our work places and not do our jobs and just fight.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different out come. Kevin made the fatal flaw of moving in to the speaker’s office before he won the vote. That was setting himself up to fail.

All these crazy republicans who can’t come to an agreement are starting to make the Santos, the big liar just elected, look normal.

I wonder how long this shit show is going to go on, or is this rally what Republicans want?


Commuting is Easier

Today I started a three day class in Rocky Mount. For those of you unfamiliar with North Carolina geography, Rocky Mount is about an 80 minute drive east from Durham. Normally when I am teaching both a morning and afternoon class in a location out of town on consecutive days I stay overnight there.

I was torn about spending two nights away from home this week when I could commute. Yes, it does mean I spend three hours in the car, but it also means I am not staying in a motel meant for people driving up or down I-95.

As the day drew closer I judged that the weather was not going to be snowy so I decided to just make the drive and not spend the night. I left home at 7:15 and got home before 7:15. It won’t be as long tomorrow because I arrived extra early for class this morning because I got the start time wrong.

As far as commuting almost three hours in a day I thought about my Dad when we lived in Wilton. He commuted closer to four hours everyday and worked much longer hours than I do. His commute involved driving from our house to the Norton heights train station at six in the morning, which took about 25 minutes. Then getting on the New Haven line to NYC, a hour train. Arriving at grand central station he would carry his giant paper filled brief case on the 25 minute walk to his office at 9 West 57th street, no matter the weather. He left the house at six and usually got home around 8:30.

I got in my car and drove to the front door of the Benvenue Country club. Seems not to be too bad.

I am lucky that Russ ran out and picked up dinner. I guess it’s no different for him if I am away or coming home too late to cook.

The thing about commuting that is bd is the drudgery of doing it everyday. Three days is doable.


Resolutions, No Thanks

I stopped making resolutions years ago. When I did make them they were always too aspirational. As a younger person I thought if I made a resolution it would magically come true. Eventually I grew up and realized I was just setting myself up to fail. Failing never felt good and so I was despondent over not achieving my resolution and about how quickly I let it go.

Now I try and have an intention basically everyday. It should be nothing too big. Today It was to not put off cleaning the tile in my bathroom. Rather than just being a to-do item the intention was to not put it off. I felt great satisfaction in getting done something I had been thinking about doing for months, but just never got around to.

As I thought about it, setting an intention that was totally doable made me very happy. Why should I make a very long list and when I don’t get everything done I feel let down.

Now I am going to set intentions I am certain I can keep. I am going to do dry January. Since I gave up drinking 38 years go I think it is a good bet I will succeed. Maybe I will also intend to start the day with a healthy breakfast. I can’t think of the last time I missed breakfast so this is another sure fire win.

I am not setting a step goal this year since last year I did that and got terrible bursitis in my knee which practically crippled me for four months. I am healed now and can walk no problem so my intention is to walk just enough to not get bursitis. How much is that? Who knows.

Tomorrow’s intention is to have all the people in two Mah Jongg classes in Rocky Mount want to come back to class a second day. No pressure. I rarely lose a student, but I don’t want to start tomorrow. Getting people to love Mah Jongg is so much more fun than cleaning tile.


Earthly Mah Jongg Hand – Good Omen

It should come to no one’s surprise that I play Mah Jongg online. I consider it continuing education. One of my mantra’s in teaching is I encourage players not to stop the Charleston. For those of you who don’t play Mah Jongg, stop reading now because you won’t care abut this.

The Charleston is the the beginning of the game where players trade tiles with each other without knowing what you are being given until you see them. You trade three tiles at a time. It is mandatory to do this three times, which is called one round of Charleston. The second round is optional, meaning any one player can stop the whole thing. Once it is stopped all Charleston trading stops. I tell my students not to stop the Charleston due of indecision, which is the number one reason people stop.

The mistake is you are foregoing getting nine new tiles, three at a time and that can really improve you hand.

Today I played my first hand of Mah Jongg online. As the Charleston was going on I honed in on a closed hand in the odds. We finished one round of Charleston and I only had two tiles to trade. This would be the only reason to stop the Charleston. Despite having 11 tiles for my hand I went ahead with the Charleston and traded away one of my flowers that I needed, but knew with 8 of them in the game I could still get another.

Amazingly what I was passed in my last across was everything I needed, including a flower. I was able to do blind pass and no Courtesy in my last passes. As I was East I had fourteen tiles that made a hand. I was so excited I took a screen shot of it. You can see by the number of tiles still in the wall at 99 it was the very first play.

I declared Mah Jongg! This is called an Earthly hand, meaning I made it by passing tiles in the Charleston. In my 30 years of playing it has never happened to me. Just for your edification there is something called a heavenly hand, which means that East was dealt a Mah Jongg hand, no passing. I have never seen that happen.

You can see in the second screen shot that there are still 99 tiles left in the wall. I never discarded or picked! I hope this is a good omen for a very Lucky year!


The Year In Review, Just the Good Stuff

One of the best things about writing a blog is I have a record of almost everything I did, thought or wanted to do. As the year ends I want to review the positive aspects of the year. Even the good things related to bad situations. This is not a complicate list, just a few highlights that come to mind when I look back at 2022.

January found me in Kinston, NC for the first of three weeks I would visit this year. I was invited to teach Mah Jongg to a group of the nicest people, who have become friends. I cherish all my students, but the Kinston crowd went out of the way to make me feel welcome. Jane and Warren Brothers now let me stay with them when I come to town and they along with Kristi Blizzard throw dinner parties when I am there. What a joy it has been for me to get to know them.

At the end of April Russ and I went to Chicago and celebrated our 30th anniversary a few day early. We needed to do it then because in May we had to go to Boston to celebrate Carter’s college graduation. She had successfully finished in December and started her new job at Catalent in January, but go to walk in the May ceremony at Fenway. A fun five days in Boston with the bonus of seeing my friends Suzanne and Sally.

In June Russ and. After and I met up in NYC for a second birthday celebration. The highlight being that Carter took me to Funny Girl. It marked the first time she paid for tickets to anything. I love a working daughter.

In July it was back to Boston to go the Elton John with Carter. My friend Stori came into the city to spend the day with me and we had a great time needlepoint shopping, spending time in the commons and going to lunch. I had no idea it would be the last time I would see her and I am so thankful that I did.

At the end of July we had a fabulous family reunion at Pawley’s Island where we scattered my father’s ashes of the Ed Carter foot Bridge in South Litchfield. Thanks to my great Cousin Mary for planning and organizing a wonderful week.

I had three fun weeks at the beach teaching Mah Jongg, thanks to my original agent Reba who let me stay with her and my friend Kate who offered up her guest room when I need it. I love my beach students who then invite me to their home towns to teach. Mah Jongg took me everywhere this year.

In the middle of August Shay and I drove up the east coast on our way to Maine. The highlight of that trip was staying with Suzanne at her house in New Hampshire and starting off my lobster month with her.

August and September were all about Maine. The house we rented for a month was perfect for us, not that staying at Warren’s is not wonderful too, but guests can only stay so long. We had many guests, Nancy, Kar, Suzanne, Oliver, Carter and Estelle. We saw friends, Warren, Julie, Jamie and Wendie. We ate lots of Lobster and enjoyed many sunrises and sunsets over Penobscot Bay.

The fall had my mother moving to Durham to Croasdaile village, even if part time. My friend Carol Walker hosted a welcome luncheon for her in October.

Sadly October also saw the passing of my friend Stori in a freak horseback riding accident. The only good that came from that was my reconnection with her sister Lilea and Stori’s family. I am ever thankful for Nancy Mack Von Euler who came with me to the memorial service where I spoke. And to Henrietta Cheng Mei for taking back to Boston. Boarding school friends are friends for life. The bright spot of that trip is I got to meet Carter’s girl friend Claire and have brunch with them.

November had us visiting Jan and Rex in the Mountains where we had our first snow of the year and excellent puzzle time.

Thanksgiving was the first time Carter had been home in nine months. It was a bright spot to also have her help get the Christmas decorations out.

This December saw the return of all my annual Christmas parties and finally a happy family Christmas.

I am thankful for my sweet family, dear friends, darling dog Shay and look forward to a happy and healthy New Year for you all.


Best Storage Investment

Anyone who knows me knows that I love Christmas decorating. It started in high school where I was on official “Christmas cadet.” I wore Christmas lights to Math class and surprisingly Mrs. Elmore would let me plug in during class.

In college I would get a real Christmas tree. There was a store a few doors down from our house on Pomfret St. where I would buy Swedish ornaments that I still have to this day.

I like to collect ornaments from every place I go. I do not subscribe to “designer” Christmas trees where all the ornaments have a color theme. I see ornaments as the scrap book of my life.

Years ago, probably when we moved into this house, I started purchasing the big plastic hinged top boxes to store my decorations in. Before that I had Christmas themed cardboard boxes, but they were starting to fall apart.

The beauty of the hinged top boxes is they do a superior job of protection and can be safely stacked on top of each other. This is important since I am not the one who puts them away in the attic. It is enough that Russ does this big job. It would be too much if I wanted him to treat them with kid gloves.

A few years ago I labeled all the boxes so when Russ removes them from the attic he can take them right to the room where they will be unpacked or repacked. Today I finished filling all the boxes. They are currently scattered about the house since it was a work day for Russ. I figure tomorrow we will put them in the attic. I went around counting the boxes and found it was over 60. Sadly wreaths don’t fit in those boxes so I still have makeshift containers for them.

I know it will be just under 11 months before I set eye upon them again, but the one thing I know is come next Christmas I will know exactly what is in each well protected box. What a good investment they were.


Waiting Out This Year

As I was packing up ornaments and wiping down tables I got a message from my dear friend Kar. Her 88 year old mother-in-law had fallen and bumped her head right before Christmas. Back and forth to and from the hospital in the Christmas storm they thought she was Ok, until she wasn’t. Kar’s husband made the dash north to be with her and got there before she passed away.

My friend Tom, who was my age, passed away earlier this month after complications from a hip replacement. His memorial service is weekend after this one. I just made “somebody died?” Fried chicken from my friend Michelle after she and her family returned from her father’s funeral after a sudden death. All three of these passings were very unexpected.

As a member of the funeral committee at church, I have made more cookie and sandwiches and served more punch this year than ever. I am ready for 2022 to be over.

For the last two days of the year I am going to lay low at home. Seems like if I give 2022 any more chances it might take it.

Feels like the world is due for a good year. How about some wars ending, and no political campaigns and a reduction in Covid. I don’t feel like it is asking too much. Well maybe a better economic situation and come calming of climate change. Mostly good health for those around me and their loved ones.

Please stay safe out there. We just don’t know how long we have together. I can’t make any more chicken in 2022.


Sweeping Away the Year

It’s Carter’s last day home so to compound the dreaded feeling I decided I needed to start taking down Christmas. I also wanted to take advantage of Carter being able to help take the boxes out of the attic.

I didn’t start with the tree as that is it’s own nightmare. I started by taking down the needlepoint since it is the first to go up. The needlepoint gets treated better than all other Christmas ornamentation. It has special boxes that go under the guest room bed so they are close at hand in case I ever have to escape the house.

I put all the flat needlepoints in one box and all the three dimensional in another. This year the 3-D’s are in a bigger box, but there is still plenty of room to add more. I figure I can stitch for at least five more years and not have filled my two garlands.

After the needlepoint I carefully dismantled and wrapped the village under glass that takes up the whole coffee table. I had to windex the table before putting back the year-round decorations.

Then I packed the nutcrackers, Santa’s and snowmen. Lastly I dismantled the mantle. Cleaned every surface and put back the non-holiday items. Everything looks so barren even though that is not a word you would use to describe my living room.

Before
After

It didn’t take that long to do that one room, but one was all I could do today. I figure I have until Sunday to get everything done. At dinner I asked what day it was today and when I learned it was only Wednesday I revised my schedule. I think I can get it all done by Friday.

I won’t have Carter to distract me. Russ has so much work he will be tied up. So I might as well get this all behind me in the next two days.

As if the putting away the sparkle is not bad enough, it’s the cleaning between packing the Christmas and unpacking the regular that I hate. Making sure to remove every rogue glitter that jumped from it’s decorations, or the dust that settled between the mercury balls on the table. With the Christmas ornaments the dust is not noticed. Once they are all gone you are only left with the dust. Not so appealing.

Regular life is going to start up next week. There won’t be time to dust or vacuum and I certainly don’t want to start 2023 out with any dirt. 2022 was a year I would like to sweep away. I am hoping that the new year brings joy, health and happiness and dirt does not go with any of those.


Inflation Hits the Mah Jongg Card

For Christmas Carter and Russ made me Mah Jongg business Cards. They secretly conspired trying to figure out what my title should be. Mah Jongg teacher was not enough for them. Instead they deemed me Mah Jongg Sage. It’s a heady title. Carter out a symbol of the One Dot on the back. So glad she didn’t use a Joker. They didn’t arrive in time for Christmas, but they gave me the mock-up.

The cards arrived today right along with the National Mah Jongg League’s yearly newsletter. The BIG NEWS from NMJL was hidden in paragraph five of the president’s letter, “the PRICE Increase of the card.” This year’s large print Mah Jongg card is $10. It has been ten dollars for a while, so the NMJL was due for more dough. The card did not go up $1 as it has in the past. Not $2, which would have been an understandable increase. No the price went up $5! That is a fifty percent increase.

I am not sure Ruth (the now deceased, long time President) would have gone for 50%. Her son Larry is in charge now.

I can make an argument that even $15 is not a hardship to play the game we love so much. The ACBL, governing body of duplicate bridge charges $40 a year to be a member and you pay dearly to play every game to accrue points that are worthless, except for bragging rights. At least at Chuck’s Cheese you get tickets when you win to turn in for a yo-yo.

There it is, Mah Jongg will not suffer due to this price increase, but I will give you one of my Mah Jongg Business cards for free.

This is just a reminder to go head and order your 2023 cards now. They won’t be mailed until the very end of March, but the sooner you order the greater your chance of getting your new card in time to play it on April 1, the start of the new Mah Jongg year.


Three days, Three Parties, Lots of Dishes

The last guests, the four Howells, just left from a very fun dinner at our house. It is hard to believe that have not lived here in twenty years. Having them at our table felt like old times and those old times were yesterday.

It was the last planned holiday celebration. It was the easiest dinner I could make. A big Antipasto platter to start and then Cacio e Pepe and arugula salad followed by the last of my peppermint ice cream. Carter did not remember the Howell since she was only three when they moved, but she knew who Roz was as she had heard the story many times of how Roz broke into the hospital just a few hours after Carter was born by saying she was “Granny Roz.”

The nurse at the desk had no idea I was not an 18 year old new mother.

After they said good night we had another kitchen full of dishes to be hand washed. This being the observant holiday of Christmas on a Sunday, I still haven’t heard back from a potential repair man for my dishwasher. My hands are already raw from washing so Russ took over tonight.

Shay is so exhausted from all these parties she put herself to bed. When I came up she did not even lift her head in recognition. Tomorrow she can recover. We can lie around waiting for the repairman to call and eat leftover so we have no pots and pans to wash. I may have to eat my meals standing over the sink so I have no dishes. My skin can’t take the dishwater.


I Believe

In the last few years we have not had the Christmases I usually like to have. Last year the three of us had Covid, the year before the world was in lock down, before that my father had not been well. The worst Christmas ever was the one I that started Christmas Eve with my father almost dying and the ambulance coming first thing Christmas morning to take him to Duke where I had to stand guard for two weeks to keep him there. Despite that string of bad Christmases I still believed we would once again have a joyous holiday.

Today was the Christmas I dreamed we would have. After a wonderful Christmas Eve we slept late this morning. Carter eventually woke us announcing that Santa had come. Those whom Santa brought presents for opened them. There were lots of games and arts and crafts to keep everyone busy all year. Russ got more hot sauces than there are breakfasts. We will see if any one of them is hot enough for him.

Late in the morning the sleigh carrying Janet, Sophie and my Mom arrived filled with more presents than I have ever seen. Margaret and Pete couldn’t make it at the last minute with all the weather. If they had come there would not have been room for us all and all the presents.

We exchanged gifts for a while, but after hardly making a dent we decided we needed to eat lunch to recharge for more opening.

Salmon, mushroom and leak bread pudding, asparagus and arugula salad refuled us for another afternoon session of opening. My favorite gift was the hand made museum quality Mah Jongg racks my father-in-law made for me. That was followed up by a custom made 2000 piece puzzle of a photo of Carter, me and Shay that Sophie and Janet gave me, but it was really Sophie. All my gifts revolved around Mah Jongg, Needlepoint, Christmas ornaments or Puzzles. Why fool around with anything else.

Eventually we depleted the pile of gifts. There were no moments where someone awkwardly did not have the words when opening a truly odd gift. There were no bad gifts. There was no fighting. No discussion of anything unpleasant or political. No one said they did not want to eat what was being served.

We enjoyed our Christmas peppermint ice cream at five o’clock and did our Christmas crackers. I looked around the table at my family all in their paper crowns and I thought this was a royally good Christmas. I believed it could happen again as magical Christmases had in the past. I knew we could break the streak of disappointing, sad sickness filled holidays of the last few years. Even though every year I said that would be the one that broke the streak.

We did miss my sister and my Dad, but we had a jolly old time just the same. I will continue to believe in the magic of Christmas. I believe in the good that the birth of the baby Jesus brought to the world. I believe that people are mostly good and that in the long run things will work out. Sometimes you just have a bad streak, but streaks are made to be broken. Merry Christmas to all you believers.


Christmas Eve Is My Favorite

Of all the days of the year Christmas Eve is my favorite. Nothing about Christmas is last minute for me. I have never gone to a store on Christmas Eve. I have never wrapped a gift, or baked a cake. Anything that could be done in advance is done. Today is all about fun.

Carter helped me with the preparations for tonight’s dinner with our friends Lynn, Logan and Ellis who are our friends who are more like family. I also prepped food for our Christmas lunch which will be with my real family tomorrow. Nothing was difficult, arugula salad with orange supremes, pomegranate and goat cheese, leg of lamb, smashed potatoes and popovers. Lynn brought her famous green beans with onions and tomatoes and so much bacon.

Since the cooking didn’t take too much time I worked on my Christmas puzzle my friend Christy gave me. It said on the box “Extra Difficult” and I took that as quite a challenge to finish it in a day, which I did. There is nothing I love more than a good Christmas Puzzle.

I was wearing my gift from my friend Mary Lloyd, the warmest cozy slippers which were badly needed since it was 14 degrees out. I know that many of you have it even colder today. I hope everyone has power and heat.

After our salad and main course we all took a pause and went to church for the candle light service. We got to sing carols we all know, except we sang one odd version of Away In A Manger. When we got home Lynn asked why we sang that weird Carol and Russ tried to explain to her about paying for copy write when the service is steamed on You Tube. Lynn didn’t like that answer, “This is about Jesus for heavens sake and a manger, OK.” I guess those copy write lawyers didn’t get the manger part.

I did lean back and whisper to Dave Pottenger that one year when it is time to sing Joy to the World we should start with “Jeremiah was a bull frog…” that got a chuckle. That is probably why he doesn’t usually sit up near our pew. It would become the pews that were most like the back of the school bus.

After church we enjoyed our dessert and Russ and Carter hand washed all the dishes. Such a fun day. I hate for Christmas to come because then I have to wait another 365 days to do it again.


It Never Fails

We are all home. Enjoying meals together. We have guests coming for dinner tomorrow, for Christmas day lunch and Boxing Day dinner. The dishwasher was full after lunch. We tried to run it, to no avail. The dreaded F12 code.

I summoned Russ to see if he could fix it. After a few attempts it dawned on him we had this code people and it required two technicians in two visits with weeks between waiting for parts.

The repair office was closed by the time we figured this out so I have no idea when a repair man might possibly be blue to make it.

Looks like we will be washing a lot of dishes by hand for the rest of the year. It never fails that the dishwasher will fail when you need it most.


Peppermint Stick Ice Cream for Christmas

Carter and her friend Estelle got to lick the bowl

For the last few years I have made peppermint stick ice cream for Christmas Eve. It is easy and the flavor screams, “Santa is coming.” I don’t have a fancy ice cream machine, just one of those kind with the core bowl you put in the freezer for 24 hours. While that is freezing you make the ice cream base and chill it in the refrigerator at the same time. As long as that core is really frozen and your liquids base is well chilled it only takes about 15-20 minutes of churning to make the most delicious ice cream. What you get is like soft serve. But if you put it in a container and put it in the freezer for a few hours you get hard packed ice cream.

My recipe uses egg yolks, so technically it is a frozen custard. I have made it without egg yolks and it is a little flat tasting. Go for the eggs and you can make meringues with the left over whites.

7 egg yolks

1 c. Sugar

1/2 t. kosher salt

3 cups of heavy cream

1 cup of whole milk

1 1/2 t. Peppermint extract

6 candy canes crushed up.

In a sauce pan put the egg yolks, sugar and salt. Whisk it together for a good minute or two. Slowly pour in the cream and milk whisking the whole time. Put the pan on the stove on a medium heat.

Stir while heating the mixture for about ten minutes. You want to get the mixture to 173° using a candy thermometer. If you don’t have a thermometer you want the mixture to be able to coat the back of the wooden spoon and when you draw a line in it the mixture stays on each side of the line.

Pour the contents of the saucepan through a fine mesh strainer into a container with a lid. Add the peppermint extract at this point. Make sure not to add too much extract because it is very strong.

Put the ice cream base in the fridge.

When you are ready to churn pour the base into the frozen core and churn until the mixture is the consistency of soft serve ice cream. Remove from the frozen core and add the crushed candy canes. Store covered hidden in your freezer so your family does not eat it before you are ready to serve it. It is extra good with hot fudge.


Pre-Christmas Cooking

One of my favorite traditions in my childhood was our annual Christmas Eve party. My parents invited all their friends and their families for a big giant dinner on Christmas Eve. Our old barn house had originally been “the party house” for another house. It fit my parents perfectly. They had lots of big parties.

As a child, my father kept my mind off thinking about Santa by having me help preparing the party food. For days we would visit the liquor store stocking the bar, bake hundreds of biscuits for ham biscuits, purchase oysters in gallon paint cans for oyster stew and roast many tenderloins. I credit this party as my introduction to catering on a large scale.

Our house, as a party house, had three kitchens. This was imperative to be able to store all the food we needed for the hundreds of guests. Since it was Connecticut it was always cold on Christmas eve so we also used a fleet of ice chests that lined the bridge from upstairs kitchen door to the land 20 feet away.

As I am preparing for the three major meals I am serving on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day to just dozens not hundreds, I miss those three kitchens. What I really miss is the ability to reliably use the outdoors as a refrigerator, although I don’t want to live in a cold climate.

Today I prepared the base for my homemade peppermint ice cream. I have exactly enough space in the freezer to put the ice cream machine core and once I make the ice cream it will take the place of the core. There is not a square inch to put an extra ice cube.

As I reviewed space in the refrigerator I adjusted my menu so that I did not need to worry about where to put a large ham. I changed a dessert for one dinner to something that did not have to be chilled. Since the weather is reported to be cold I am hoping to be able to keep ice frozen outside my house for two days.

The only good news is I don’t have to soak a country ham in the bathtub like I did as a child. I hope those of you who used to come to that party aren’t worried about that ham. The alcohol you drank killed anything dangerous.


Congratulations to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC

Forbes Magazine just released its list of the Top 100 Charities in the US. The number one charity is Feed America, which the Food Bank of CENC is one of their 200 members. That is very exciting. Even more exciting is that the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC was number 62 on the list! What an honor. We are on a list with the likes of YMCA, United Way, Salvation Army, American Cancer Society. Those are all national charities. The Food Bank is just a charity in 34 counties of North Carolina. We aren’t national, regional or even a whole state charity, and we made 62!

I am so proud of our Food Bank. So much of the credit goes to Peter Werbicki, our 20 year CEO who retired this year. When I started volunteering for the Food Bank he was the Operation’s manger. He brought the Food Bank a long way.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Chuck ReCorr who sent me to Harvard when I was the board chair-elect, to the course on Non-profit excellence. We made a lot of great changes in the Food Bank thanks to that training. Before that we probably wouldn’t have made the list of 1000 best charities and here we are today, 62.

I love to share the good work of the Food Bank with anyone who will listen. I have a fun new event to support the Food Bank coming up in March. It is a Beginner Mah Jongg Tournament held at the Raleigh head quarters. Save the Date, March 20. I look forward to hosting a great Mah Jongg Day that will support the Food Bank, the 62 best charity in the country!


Creamed Spinach

I got a bunch of requests for my creamed spinach after they saw Russ eating it in a photo two days ago.

My father was a big fan of creamed spinach. I started making it the way he did and then spiced it up as the years went on. This is a very flavorful, but not spicy hot version. It’s not healthy, but it’s damn good

2 T. Butter

1 sweet onion – minced

3 cloves of garlic- minced

1 large bag of frozen chopped spinach – thawed, water squeezed out

1 cup half and half

1 brick of cream cheese – cut into eight hunks

1 t. Garlic powder

2 t. Onion powder

1 t. Grated nutmeg

1 t. White pepper

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Salt to taste

In a large skillet melt the butter. Add the onion and garlic and cook on medium meat until the onion is just translucent. Add the half and half and heat.

Add the spinach and the cream cheese. On medium heat cook until the cream cheese is well incorporated into the spinach.

Add the spices. Then the Parmesan. Stir until hot and taste for salt.


Christmas Can Start, Carter is Home

Thanks to flexible work from home rules, Carter was able to come home today for Christmas. She still has to work some this week, but I am happy to have her here so it feels like Christmas.

Shay was especially glad to see her. I had stopped opening Shay’s advent calendars since she rejected most of the surprises so Carter did a big opening with Shay. Amazingly Shay liked most things that Carter gave her. It must be that special Carter touch, or perhaps the enthusiasm Carter sold thing to her.

“Look Shay, gingerbread pretzels!” Shay gladly ate them out of Carter’s hand. Not that way when I tried.

Shay still did not like the balls Carter bounced at her. She has never been very good at fetch and even worse at bringing it back to you.

The crinkly sounding gingerbread man was a hit. Perhaps the gingerbread theme was all she was looking for.

Maybe Shay just did not think it was Christmas until her girl came home. I concur.


Wrapping and Cooking

As I predicted, today was a day of lots of wrapping. Sadly I did not get it all done, but made a giant bite of the wrapping cookie. I found presents I had forgotten about. Made bows that he to be attached to presents with greening pins and used tags I bought three years ago that I hadn’t gotten around to using because they were “too nice.”

What kept me going in my wrapping den was the audio book I am listening to for my tiny book club. We picked Demon Copperhead and I am addicted. I usually listen while I am driving to Mah Jongg classes, but this book has me hooked. Yesterday I did my nails so I could have n excuse to sit and listen while my nails dried. Three hours of wrapping went by in a blink as I listened to Demon talk about his Foster parents. I highly recommend this book!

By late afternoon I had to move on to my other job today, making food for friends who will be coming home from out of town from a funeral for her father. I couldn’t make “somebody died?” fried chicken until tomorrow, but I did make creamed spinach, sea salt brownies and homemade ranch dressing. I filled two giant containers with spinach and had enough leftover for us for dinner. Russ really liked the creamed spinach and did a good job cleaning the ramekin.

I feel better about being ready for Christmas. Carter comes home tomorrow for ten days so it is going to be a real celebration. I wish I could still take her to see Santa. She always wants to know which list she is on. I think I know.


It’s All About the Wrapping Now

I have not taken inventory of my gifts. It is possible I have way too many gifts for one person and not enough for another. I can’t be sure until I start wrapping. I actually already started wrapping, but I sliced my pointer finger on my dominant hand so I took a break to let that little cut heal.

With my parties finished I can begin to put presents around the tree so they are out of my office. I used one whole roll of paper wrapping the gift I bought for everybody. I pray they like it since I am giving seven of them. Even though I got the paper on those gifts they have no bows or tags. I think I know what I will be doing tomorrow.

I want to get this done in one day so I have a little time to fill in the empty spaces, like coming up with something to give my husband.

This is the part of Christmas that makes me crazy, the shopping. I hate shopping and I especially hate shopping when other people are shopping. The way deliveries are going these days I don’t dare order anything in fear it won’t arrive. I want to get everything done and wrapped well before the big cooking has to start.


MTHFR

This is not the license plate form of Mother Fucker, but when I first saw MTHFR that is what I thought. At my Doctor’s today I found out I have MTHFR, which is a genetic mutation that means I don’t process Folic Acid.

Folic Acid is the man made form of folate. I am all good with naturally occurring folate, just not the man made version. The first thing that sprung to my mind is “I took a ton of folic acid in my child rearing years.” Having a high level of folate helps prevent spina bifida in babies.

To help prevent these birth defects the FDA regulated flour, requiring it to be enriched with folic acid. It helped with birth defects, but no one considered it hurt people with MTHFR.

Apparently something like 30-40% of people have MTHFR and most don’t know it. It’s not hard to find out, but you need your Doctor to request a blood test for it. The list of things that could be signs of MTHER is so long from Anaemia, Eczema, anxiety, poor memory, stomach pains, headaches to depression. I am lucky I don’t have most of the symptoms now of what having folic acid can do, but now I do need to try and keep it out of my system.

All enriched foods have folic acids, breads, pastas, enriched rice, cereals. It’s a lot. Thankfully most organic versions of those foods do not as well as most gluten free foods.

I took to my cabinets to look at labels. Thankfully Trader Joe’s has many Folic Acid free foods, but going out to eat is going to be fun.

I write this because I have never had one person say MTHFR out loud to me, or even in a whisper. If 30-40% of people have this genetic mutation they probably don’t know it. I can think of many people who have anxiety or stomach issues. Never has anyone said they needed to stay away from folic acid. Lots of people have turned gluten free and started feeling better. It might not be the lack of gluten that is making them feel better, but actually the lack of folic acid in gluten free foods.

As I learn more about this I will share any enlightening information. If you have MTHFR and want to share anything with me I would love to know it.


Chinese Chicken Salad

A few people from yesterday’s auction want the recipe from the auction lunch yesterday. If I don’t write down what I do when I do it I forget, so here it goes.

The salad is any combination of vegetables, but We used, Savoy cabbage and red cabbage, cut into ribbons, diced cucumber and red pepper, bean sprouts and red onion, shredded chicken , peanuts and wonton strips.

Here is the dressing

Three inch knob of fresh ginger, grated or seven cubes of frozen ginger

Six cloves of garlic, minced

1 cup of rice wine vinegar

3/4 cup of dark sesame oil

1/4 cup of canola oil

1/4 cup of soy sauce

1/4 cup of water

1/4 cup of honey

1 T. Crushed red pepper

1/4 cup of white and black sesame seeds

A bunch of black pepper

1/4 cup of peanut butter

Mix it well and let it sit for at least a few hours to have the flavors marry. Mix agin before you serve.


Auction Success

My favorite activity our Garden club does is our Christmas Auction. It almost is one of my favorite things I do all year. For years Pat Joklik was the auctioneer. She was fantastic. Then she asked me if I would do it because she said she didn’t know everyone’s names as more young members were being admitted. I hated that Pat felt that way, but I gladly took over. You know I like nothing more than a captive audience and a chance to pat them from their money for a good cause. I think this was my 20th year as the auctioneer.

Today was a rollicking event. We had about sixty people, many of whom were well loved guests. The garden club members brought fabulous items to auction. It started late last night when George Littlewood showed up at our house with the largest, most beautiful white pot filled with five fabulous orchids. It was so big and heavy I had to have Russ get out of bed, get dressed and help George carry it in. The requirement of each garden club member is to bring something worth at least $25 to be auctioned. This arrangement was the item of Page Littlewood and Leslie Kirkland and it was way over their requirement. It sold for $500!

Carol Shepard brought her famous Bouche de Noel with beautiful meringue mushrooms. It went for $300! As did Holley Broughton’s Happy New Year wreath! Laura Virkler’s homemade jams and Anna Whalen’s Bolognese went for $300 each and my Turkey Curry in a red pot was just under that.

The bidding was fast and furious. People were generous and competitive. It made for a very fun auction.

I could never host this event and be the auctioneer all at the same time if I didn’t have the best group of Co-hostesses, Christy Barnes, Carolyn Sloate, Kay Peters and Leslie Brame manned the kitchen the whole day! When I say the whole day I mean from nine to three. They baked the Christmas tree cheese stuffed rolls I prepared, dressed the Chinese chicken salad, served the cranberry trifle and cleaned every fork, plate and glass! I am eternally grateful for all that they did, including the at home food prep work I assigned them.

For years one member, who I shall not name, but if you are in garden club you know who she is, has been lobbying to have wine at the auction. This year we decided to honor her request, but then she could not come to the auction. We had a case of wine, of various types. At the end of the day we assessed what was drunk. Two bottles were opened, but only half of the wine in each bottle was gone.

Our club treasurer, Missy McLeod, works all through the auction, never even eating lunch. She checks all the items in, and takes notes on all the winning bids and collects all the money in the end. After the whole thing was done she sent an email out to the club saying that we had raised $6,045 which when she collect money from the people who did not bring a auction item will be an even bigger number, surpassing our highest amount ever raised.

The member who wanted the wine wrote me a response to the big total number, “Must have been the wine!” It was not! All bidding was sober and heartfelt! Way to go Hope valley Garden club. Thanks for another great, no, even better, auction.